According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep apnea affects more than 18 million people in the United States alone, and the disorder is likely to be under-diagnosed. For those who do seek treatment, one of the most confusing parts is deciding what kind of doctor to see. Here are five different medical professionals who treat sleep apnea and why you would consider each one:
A doctor specializing in sleep disorders is the most obvious answer when considering who to see if you suspect you or a loved one may have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder. These doctors have often been trained specifically to treat conditions associated with sleep. However, some insurance companies limit the providers and services they cover in regards to sleep apnea treatment, so it’s best to check your policy and plan accordingly.
Primary Care Providers
When it comes to insurance, many plans do cover sleep specialists, as long as you have a referral. It’s common for insurance companies to require a referral for many services, so it’s always a good idea to consult with your primary care physician first. Your PCP can also be a great resource in helping you determine if there are some underlying issues you can address first that may be causing your sleep issues.
Mental Health Professionals
Lifestyle and behavioral issues can be a trigger for sleep apnea symptoms. Sometimes alcohol or tobacco use can cause symptoms of sleep apnea, and getting help with those lifestyle habits could help resolve your troubles. In addition, weight can play a role in sleep apnea development. Losing weight can be difficult on your own, but many mental health providers specialize in the types of behavioral changes that may lead to better sleep.
Ear, Nose and Throat Specialists
Ear, nose and throat specialists, also called otolaryngologists or ENTs for short, can help determine if symptoms of sleep apnea such as snoring are being caused by infection, allergies or a nasal obstruction. Sometimes, enlarged tonsils and adenoids may be the culprit.
This may be the most surprising on the list, but in recent years many dentists have begun focusing on how to treat sleep apnea; in particular, obstructive sleep apnea.
Dr. Amy Norman, DDS, of Everett, Washington, has taken a specialized approach to treating her patients with sleep apnea symptoms.
"Many treatment options for sleep apnea revolve around surgery or using a noisy machine attached to a tube all night, every night," she said. "Some patients don’t want to have to undergo surgery or don’t want to be tied down to a machine for life."
At her practice, Norman custom fits oral appliances similar to a sports mouth guard for patients who can’t tolerate the use of the CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, machine. These oral appliances help the jaw maintain an optimal position for airway flow during sleep without the cords, tubes and noise of a machine.
Choosing the right doctor to diagnose sleep apnea symptoms depends on the cause of the symptoms and the treatment options each patient is willing to consider. Every case is unique, and you may have to see several different care providers before you find the option that is best for you.